More Americans Die from Heat than Any Other Cause: Tips to Be Safe AND Help Prevent Blackouts

It’s sad, maybe surprising, but definitely true: more Americans die from heat than any other single cause, even all cancers combined. With heat waves sweeping much of the US, here are some things you can do to be more comfortable.

It’s easy (for those who have them) to just turn up the AC, but when too many people do this, brown-outs and black-outs happen.

Here are tips to keep you and your family more comfortable, without using a lot of electricity.
We’re breaking this post down into two parts:

Pulling Down Shades Cools the Room, Saving Power and Money

Keep All Shades Down and/or Curtains Shut

By keeping sunshine out of your home, the temperature can be reduced by up to 15 to 20 degrees.   This keeps you comfortable and reduces the need to use electricity to cool down the house. You save money and lessen the demand on the electrical grid.

If You Have a Fireplace, Make Sure the Damper is Shut

This is particularly important if you are using air conditioners.  Just as warm air can go up the chimney during the window, the chimney also can suck hot air into your home.  You’ll be more comfortable and need to use fewer fans and set your AC at a higher temperature.

If You Have to Use an Air Conditioner, Use it Carefully

There are some people who have to use an air conditioner for medical reasons.  Along with the above tips regarding curtains and fireplaces, keep the temperature setting as high as possible.  If your AC doesn’t automatically turn itself off when the set temperature is reached, turn it off periodically, and then turn it on when it gets uncomfortable again.

Just be careful with this:  most electricity is consumed during the cool down period, not when the temperature is being maintained. If your goal is to keep the room 72-75 degrees (maybe not as comfortable as you would like on a really hot day, but a level that will keep you save without using tons of power), turn it back on when it gets around 77 degrees.

Keeping a room around 72-75 degrees uses less power than cooling a room that is 78 degrees or above. Why:  not only the air, but the walls, floors, and furniture also have to cool off.

And When You Get a Nice Breeze? 

If there is a breeze, particularly at night, open the window and put a large bowl of ice in front it. This cools off the air entering your home. The exception: if there is an air quality alert in your area, you should keep all of your windows shut.

Avoid Using Your Oven

As much as possible, avoid cooking and try to eat cold foods.  Of course this isn’t always possible, but baking is one sure way to add lots of heat to your home.  Let the pie, cake or roast wait until the temperature goes down.  You’ll be more comfortable and eliminate another source of power drain.

Turn Off Any Appliances You Aren’t Using

Radios, TVs, and computers all use lots of electricity. Save yourself some money and lessen the drain on utility grid by turning off whatever you aren’t using. Even things like cell phone chargers suck energy even if the phone isn’t being recharged, so make sure all of these are unplugged. (Getting in this habit will also lower your monthly utility bills!)

Put Off That Load of Laundry

To the greatest extent possible, avoid using your washer and dryer. Obviously everyone can’t do that for an extended period of time.  But dryers and washers both use lots of electricity and add heat to your home.  When you do run a wash, avoid doing it between 4:00 PM and 9:00 PM, when electricity use is usually at its peak.

Avoid Vigorous Exercizing During HeatwavesBe Careful Exercising

If it is extremely hot, many areas also experience poor air quality.  Unless you have specific medical advice otherwise, it won’t hurt you to skip your daily run or workout during heatwave.  And if you can’t or don’t want to, try to exercise during early morning hours, which usually are the coolest hours of the day.

Drink Lots of Water

Whether it’s humid or very arid where you live, the heat can cause dehydration very quickly.  Try to avoid soda, coffee and tea containing contains caffeine, which can speed up dehydration. Ice tea is a summertime favorite, but many teas contain as much if not more caffeine than coffee

Know the Signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Some early symptoms may be ones that you think of as normal conditions during during really hot weather, but they aren’t.  Signs of heat exhaustion include weakness, unusual tiredness or fatigue, nausea, vomiting, cramps and dizziness.

If you experience these symptoms or others around you do, call a doctor and drink water or other caffeine-free beverage. Juice and sports drinks are good because they can help not only with liquid, but by getting your metabolism back on track. If you don’t have a sports drink handy, take a large glass of water (16-ounces or more) add a pinch (less than 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt) and a half-teaspoon of sugar. Mix it up and drink it as quickly as possible. You should still  call a doctor or emergency room for advice if you don’t feel much better in just a few minutes.

While heat exhaustion usually is easily treated in otherwise healthy people, heat exhaustion is not.

Heat exhaustion requires immediate medical attention by experts. Signs to look out for include:  confusion, irritability, odd behavior, and in extreme cases hallucinations; high body temperatures; no sweating and red or flushed skin; and rapid pulse rate.

People who work outdoors, athletes, small children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to heat stroke which is what most people die of during heat waves. Heat exhaustion in and of itself can be fatal, but often it causes heart attacks, strokes, seizures or asthma in people with heart conditions, high blood pressure, diabetes or other chronic conditions.

Check on Neighbors, Especially those Who Are Ill or Elderly

Most (but not all!) people who get very sick or die during heat waves are either very young, very old or have an underlying illness. If you have older neighbors or even a young mother with little children, take a few minutes to check in on them to see if they need anything, especially water.

If you sense that something is wrong, call 911 immediately even if they protest. It’s better to have the EMTs come and give a clean bill of health than have something bad happen. Remember:  crankiness and poor reasoning are one of the first signs of severe heat exhaustion or impending heat stroke.

Even if your neighbor is stubborn and cranky, offer as much help as possible. Many people don’t have the necessary fans and air conditioners, so if you do invite them over for a light meal or some cool drinks.

Look for Cooling Centers

Check your local news: many cities and towns have special programs during heat waves. These can run from extending the hours that public pools are open to “cooling centers” that people can visit for a few hours to chill out.  Often churches and senior citizen center also offer cooling centers.

If these aren’t available, how about going to a local mall or other area that is air conditioned.  Even most fast-food chains have AC, so why not drop in for a cool, non-alcoholic, caffeine-free drink!

Copyright 2012 AM McElroy

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